Daniel Levy did not blink. Man Utd set the title as the bar. Crystal Palace redefined themselves. Aston Villa gave a lesson in communication.
In this high-powered game of ‘Who blinks first?’, Daniel Levy could afford to simply don a pair of those joke glasses with eyes painted on and take a summer-long nap while Kanes Harry and Charlie wore themselves out.
They tried everything: an interview with Gary Neville designed to showcase the assured tranquillity of a player who genuinely believed that “ultimately it’s going to be down to me”; the constant media leaks, including the green light given to a £160m bid that never came; the gentleman’s agreement farrago undermined somewhat by the slightly more ironclad three-year contract. Elements of the reporting from some journalists and pundits seemed genuinely desperate to get Kane the Move He Deserves yet none were successful.
Levy tried nothing in particular: he resisted calls to publicly clarify the situation; he ignored the stories, the rumours, the conjecture; he operated in the best interests of his club; he went into the summer as the universally unpopular figurehead of a team clinging to the last vestiges of elitist power and he will enter the autumn with his position ostensibly strengthened and his reputation as a difficult negotiator artificially enhanced.
In truth, Levy did not have to do much to win this battle and has no cause for concern over the war recommencing in five or ten months. There was no realistic scenario in which keeping Kane for at least another year would be detrimental to Tottenham, whereas each likely outcome from him leaving in this particular window was negative.
It has been perhaps an under-reported aspect of the Kane situation but the “painful rebuild” that Mauricio Pochettino forecast long ago has removed a significant deal of experience and familiarity from that Tottenham squad in one fell swoop. Danny Rose, Erik Lamela, Toby Alderweireld and Moussa Sissoko are all either in their 30s now or will be by early 2022, have made a combined 916 appearances for Spurs and have been shuffled out for £16m. It increased Kane’s importance and prominence even further, long before dressing-room leader Serge Aurier was released.
The addition of Fabio Paratici as Managing Director has refined the transfer set-up at the club. Bryan Gil (20) is a low-risk purchase with the potential to thrill and Cristian Romero (23) arrives with substantial respect from Serie A. Emerson Royal (22) is an upgrade at right-back. An ideal window would have brought more attacking variance with a creative midfielder or alternative striking option but those are slight stumbles after a couple of huge strides forwards.
The Roy Hodgson-branded arm bands are off and Crystal Palace have relished being thrown into the deep end. Frank De Boer was asked to change the culture of the club but had neither the requisite time nor tools to do so. It remains to be seen whether Patrick Vieira will be afforded the former but he can have no complaints with regards to the latter.
If this was part of the plan all along then Palace deserve the utmost credit. Hodgson spent around £42m over almost four years in charge – fees recouped through the solitary sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka – while never bringing the club close to relegation. He was such a guarantee of survival that Palace could live on a diet of rations for long enough to plot a feast this summer.
And feast they have, but not without purpose or direction. Odsonne Edouard was the final piece of the puzzle, enhancing the attack after both the defence and midfield was already improved. He and Joachim Andersen should prosper.
Yet the biggest move Palace have made is to redefine themselves and establish a new identity as the home for young, London-born or based potential to thrive: Eberechi Eze is joined by Michael Olise, Marc Guehi and Conor Gallagher, while interest in Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Ademola Lookman emphasises a desire to keep revisiting a talent pool that will never run dry. South London is teeming with skill and Palace want to capitalise on their capital pull.
Hodgson made it possible but the transition has been exciting. The oldest Premier League manager ever left with his mission accomplished and various wage-draining 30-somethings in tow, replaced by the fourth-youngest head coach in the top flight with the pull to write an exhilarating new chapter.
The promoted clubs
Brentford quite justifiably decided that less is more, their three permanent first-team signings coming in at an average fee of £10.5m to supplement a squad already prepared for the Premier League.
Norwich have parlayed one record sale into some genuinely exciting deals, all 12 signings aged between 18 and 28, some with Premier League experience, some with an education in Europe’s other top leagues but each a genuine improvement on what came before.
Imran, the £9m purchase from Nantes, phonetically belongs in the other section but represents the biggest of many intriguing Watford moves. Emmanuel Dennis and Juraj Kucka will excite as a bare minimum, while Danny Rose, Moussa Sissoko and Josh King tick numerous boxes.
Some promoted clubs panic. Others don’t do enough. But all three should be satisfied with their business. They have not wasted the opportunity they earned in the first place.
Christian Purslow and Aston Villa
“Good evening. I wanted to speak directly to our supporters to confirm the transfer of our captain, Jack Grealish, to Manchester City, and to explain the background to this move.”
Over the next four minutes and 45 seconds, Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow proceeded to do precisely that. He spoke concisely and with absolute clarity to temper any supporter panic and frustration at the sale of a homegrown talent, simplifying the thought processes and how this eventuality had been planned for. This was not good news but the club realised the importance of transparency and honesty during a potentially difficult moment.
With one simple video issued directly to the fans, Villa turned a negative into a positive without throwing mud or obscuring the truth. It would have been a masterclass in communication even if it hadn’t shown early signs of paying off with three goals and three assists in three games from three replacements in Danny Ings, Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey.
It turns out that securing your dream move from boyhood club to trophy-hoarding behemoth need come at no cost to your personal or professional reputation. All it requires is the foresight to ensure a legally enforceable contract clause exists instead of an informal promise from a conversation a year ago. Jack Grealish kept his counsel, burned no bridges with the team he loves and waited for the interested party to extend an invite that suited everyone.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earned this. His gradual reinvention of Man Utd from sixth-place and chasing statement signings to runners-up with more emphasis on positions rather than players has reached a natural conclusion: an attempt to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho were identified long ago and finally secured. A right-back was targeted and a central midfielder really was needed but if Man Utd have decided not to settle for a Plan B and are willing to wait patiently for the right player instead of panicking and bringing in anyone available then that is a welcome shift in attitudes.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the luxury signing, one not particularly planned for and seemingly made to protect the reputation and ego of Man Utd. He will score with unerring regularity but ask Juventus whether his 101 goals were worth the financial burden.
This is it: Solskjaer must deliver a meaningful title challenge, as well as a trophy. Ronaldo makes it so, if Varane and Sancho hadn’t already. The departure of Dan James means Man Utd have sold a player at a profit for only the fourth time since 2010. If that is a sign they have finally cracked the transfer game after years of foolishness and negligence, it now has to be married with tangible on-pitch success.
No team is better at balancing both key facets of the transfer window than Chelsea. The summer started with the suggestion that Declan Rice would not be pursued to spare the ’embarrassment’ of spending a massive fee on a former player whose talent they previously overlooked or failed to harness; by August, Romelu Lukaku returned to west London as their most expensive signing ever. Yet the Blues have still turned a healthy profit at no real cost to the quality of their first-team squad.
Inter Milan and Aston Villa are the only clubs to raise more funds than Chelsea (£130.7m) through player sales this summer. But while both teams benefited from marquee sales, the Blues have focused once more on volume: ten players have left Stamford Bridge for fees, that dectet having made a combined 42 Premier League starts for the club last season.
A focus continues to be placed on Chelsea producing homegrown players for their own team but receiving £82m for Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi and Tino Livramento – three of whom have some form of buy-back clause inserted into deals with their new clubs – is testament to the brilliance and prestige of their academy. Each have the chance to prove Chelsea wrong. Some already are. The Blues retain the right to bring them back if they continue to.
It was an excellent summer even before Saul’s introduction to a sensational but shallow midfield. Jules Kounde would have completed the jigsaw but the addition of Lukaku and the Man Utd-shaped chip on his shoulder means this squad and that structure is set up for short and long-term success.
Brendan Rodgers once compared football management to “trying to build an aircraft while it is flying”. This window was more akin to delicate surgery for Leicester: strengthening the spine while simultaneously protecting the major organs. Jannik Vestergaard, Boubakary Soumare and Patson Daka reinforce every central position – Ryan Bertrand and Ademola Lookman are fine additions, too – and for the first summer since 2014 the Foxes have avoided losing a key player. At least when they miss out on Champions League qualification this season it won’t be down to their transfer business.
Not that selling one key player every year was detrimental to Leicester; that has been the foundation for them to test the structural integrity of the glass ceiling above them.
Brighton have taken notice in their quest to establish themselves as a top-flight force. Ben White was sold for £50m but not before his replacement was sourced and settled; Shane Duffy has slotted in seamlessly. And Yves Bissouma was kept from the strangely reluctant clutches of Europe’s top clubs, giving potential £18m successor Enock Mwepu at least a season to acclimatise next to the player whose throne he might soon assume.
With Mat Ryan, Davy Propper, Bernardo, Alireza Jahanabahksh, Jose Izquierdo and Percy Tau all moved permanently off the books, Brighton have shown no hesitation to accept and correct mistakes of the past. Few clubs are run better in the Premier League currently.
The sneering and derision that Everton’s transfer business has received is simultaneously strange yet understandable. Andros Townsend, Asmir Begovic, Demarai Gray and Andy Lonergan did nothing to set pulses racing, shift replica kits or capture the imagination but Rafael Benitez knew he had to service the club’s most potent weapon far better. Supply Dominic Calvert-Lewin with the bullets – jobbing Premier League wingers though they may be in the eyes of some – and he will fire them to great things. And in Salomon Rondon he will have an excellent back-up who I am ready to love again.
That level of focused recruitment has been lacking at Goodison Park of late, as the exits of Theo Walcott, Josh King, Bernard, Yannick Bolasie and Moise Kean attest. Trust the pragmatic manager to reject statement signings in favour of a necessary course correction.
Not overly comfortable with West Ham qualifying for European competition but continuing to be quite sensible. The last time they prepared for a Europa League campaign the club hierarchy publicly discussed courting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, brought in 13 new players (none of whom were called Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and ended their perennial striker search by drafting in Simone Zaza on loan after they had already been knocked out by Astra Giurgiu. David Moyes has instead made just three first-team additions but Kurt Zouma improves the defence, Alex Kral strengthens the midfield, Nikola Vlasic allows for more tactical variation in the absence of a genuine Michail Antonio alternative – Jarrod Bowen up front, anyone? – and Alphonse Areola has a year to prove he can usurp Lukasz Fabianski when the Pole’s contract expires in 2022.
Plus they can’t be knocked out of the Europa League until November at the earliest and they don’t even face Astra Giurgiu. Even if this is the last season they can squeeze out of Declan Rice, it is set up to be another fine one.
The first Burnley signing Sean Dyche ever made was that of Jamaican international and MLS journeyman Dane Richards in January 2013. The arrangement of the transfer predated Dyche’s appointment and Richards was released the following July. In his decade as a manager, Dyche has made only four more first-team signings who had no prior league experience in Britain or Ireland. Here is to Maxwel Cornet reaching the same heights as Fredrik Ulvestad, Rouwen Hennings, Steven Defour (that would actually be great) and Joel Mumbongo.
Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Lennon scratch the experience itch but Cornet (24), Nathan Collins (20) and Connor Roberts (25) point to a future Burnley often seem too reluctant to look towards. This has been their best window in some time; they will probably go down now.
Man who really f**king loves running joins coach who really f**king loves players who run.